Multi-trophic guilds respond differently to changing elevation in a subtropical forest

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  • Julia Binkenstein
  • Alexandra Maria Klein
  • Thorsten Assmann
  • François Buscot
  • Alexandra Erfmeier
  • Keping Ma
  • Katherina A. Pietsch
  • Karsten Schmidt
  • Thomas Scholten
  • Tesfaye Wubet
  • Helge Bruelheide
  • Andreas Schuldt
  • Michael Staab

Negative relationships between species richness and elevation are common and attributed to changes in single environmental properties associated to elevation, such as temperature and habitat area. However, research has lacked taxonomic breadth and comprehensive elevation studies that consider multiple groups from different trophic levels are rare. We thus analysed 24 groups of plants, arthropods, and microorganisms grouped into six trophic guilds (predators, detritivores, herbivores, plants, bacteria and fungi) along a relatively short elevational gradient (~600 m) in a subtropical forest in south-east China. The total species richness of all organisms was not related to elevation, nor was the richness of plants, herbivores or microorganisms. However, species richness and abundance in two major trophic guilds of arthropods changed with elevation, which was mediated by changes in elevation-associated habitat properties. Specifically, deadwood mass increased with elevation, which increased detritivore richness indirectly via detritivore abundance, thus supporting the ‘more individuals hypothesis’. In contrast, lower predator richness at higher elevations was directly related to lower mean temperatures, which had no effect on abundance. Our study demonstrates that even along relatively short gradients, elevation can have strong direct and abundance-mediated effects on species richness, but with effects varying from positive to negative signs depending on local resource availability and the characteristics of groups or trophic guilds. If elevation positively influences local environmental properties that benefit a given group, richness can increase towards higher elevations. Thus, the effect of global change in mountainous regions should be evaluated within the local environmental context using multi-taxon approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)1013-1023
Number of pages11
Publication statusPublished - 06.2018

Bibliographical note

We thank the administration of the Gutianshan National Nature Reserve for generously granting research permissions and for enabling BEF-China. Gathering such a comprehensive dataset would not have been possible without the help of numerous students and local assistants; Fang Teng is particularly acknowledged for sharing his extensive knowledge.
Bernhard Schmid, Werner Härdtle, Christian Wirth, Jürgen Bauhus, Sabine Both, and Xiaojuan Liu provided a great deal of intellectual and logistic support. e manuscript text benefited considerably from constructive input by the subject editor, an anonymous reviewer and Roger Kitching. We are grateful to Charles
Nock for English language editing.
Funding – This study was funded by the German Research
Foundation (DFG FOR 891/1, 891/2), the Sino-German Centre for
Research Promotion (GZ 524, 592, 698, 699, 785 and 1020), and
the National Science Foundation of China (NSFC 30710103907
and 30930005). JB was supported by equality funds of the German
Research Foundation